By Ronald Rhames
Since the inception of the South Carolina Education Lottery more than 15 years ago, nearly 308,000 technical college students in the Palmetto State have benefited from Lottery Tuition Assistance (LTA). However, as the workforce need for skilled, technical college graduates increases, the percentage of technical college tuition covered by LTA has dropped from almost 90 percent, to 75 percent, to about 50 percent. Midlands Technical College (MTC) is joining its 15 sister colleges in the South Carolina Technical College System in asking to reverse this trend and increase the amount of LTA for technical college students.
The need to increase lottery funding to support technical college students is greater than at any point since the program’s inception. The availability of lottery funding for a student is often the difference between attending college or not. Without LTA, students with little or no money must choose between maxing out credit cards to attend college, or settling for being at a disadvantage in the state’s workforce.
Every LTA dollar devoted to technical college students:
Serves the most people. South Carolina’s 16 technical colleges serve more of the Palmetto State’s undergraduates than all the other public colleges and universities combined. In fact, 57 percent of all South Carolinians enrolled as undergraduates in one of our state’s public higher education institutions attend one of our 16 technical colleges, and many of those students have families and young children relying on them at home.
Serves the most in need. South Carolina’s technical colleges serve 58.5 percent of the state’s minority college students, and the system serves the majority of first-generation college students. Our colleges provide a gateway to higher education through geographic accessibility, course-offering flexibility, and financial affordability. Lottery Tuition Assistance plays a significant role in providing this access.
Serves the most communities. While many other students relocate after graduation, graduates from technical colleges stay to serve their communities. Eighty-six percent of Midlands Technical College students live and work in the Midlands after graduation. Ninety-seven percent are living and working in South Carolina. An investment in LTA for technical college students provides a return on investment for businesses and the local communities they serve.
Serves the most industries. Technical college students help grow the economy. To build and sustain the pipeline of STEM-qualified individuals to meet the needs of business, it is imperative to open the door to as many technically trained students as possible, regardless of their ability to pay. The availability of lottery-funded scholarships is crucial not just to the students, but the entire state. The continued support of LTA ensures that higher education remains affordable and accessible to the students who need it most.
For the important reasons above, MTC is urging state lawmakers to make Lottery Tuition Assistance more accessible for students at technical colleges. Specifically, students, families, communities, and industries would benefit tremendously from an increase in the amount of lottery funding for technical college students by $7 million, making the total LTA funding $58.1 million. This funding enhances the employability of our state’s citizens, and it works to build the highly skilled workforce essential to sustaining South Carolina’s economy. It is critical for our employers and the students who are hired by them.
Ronald Rhames is president of Midlands Technical College.